I enjoy Colin Farrell to a certain extent- when it comes to your typical Hollywood fair I really enjoyed him in FRIGHT NIGHT, but when it comes to something a little more off-beat he’s great in something like IN BRUGES. TOTAL RECALL is more of the typical Hollywood fair and of the last two roles I’ve seen Farrell in it is the second remake. As a physical force in TOTAL RECALL he shines far more than he does as an actor- something that every other character shares with him in the film. Len Wiseman’s reimagining of the 1990 film excels in its action and glossy visuals, but fails spectacularly at the script level and at creating a final product that leaves a lasting impression.
What we have here is yet another remake that nobody wanted from a director whose filmography isn’t glowing with praise. Essentially, while I’m not here to deliver high praise, the equation we’ve been given thus far appeared to equal nothing but disaster- but color me surprised that I came out at least partially satisfied, considering I entered with complete indifference. The first question I heard from people before and after was if I’d seen the original- to which I had normally responded that I hadn’t. As I thought about it more I have seen at least a good portion of it, to the point that I remember certain aspects that hit recognition while watching the film. The least of which being a certain character that shows up with her lady parts exposed and then disappears never to be seen again. Given how much has changed already, why this HAD to be included is beyond me- what makes it worse is they are the three smallest fake boobs I’ve ever seen. I feel like if you are going to feature a woman with three boobs exposed they could have at least went the extra mile and make them look as good as all the other special effects rather than a cheap Halloween prop. Not to mention the confusion that they show the woman topless and still maintain a PG-13 rating- the wonders never cease.
In any event Farrell plays an ordinary factory worker whose curiosity gets the best of him when he goes to a place called Rekall to get a new set of fond memories to break up the monotony of this futuristic world. This is a post war setting where almost the whole world is uninhabitable except for Britain or the ‘United Federation of Britain’ and Australia or ‘The Colony.’ Farrell’s character’s life is turned upside down when he is in Rekall and is ambushed by police where he finds he has remarkable fighting skills and that the life he’s known is a fake. He struggles with the idea of if he is being lied to and is stuck in Rekall or if he really is a lethal force destined to take down the ruling government to free ‘The Colony’ from oppression.
The futuristic world here is pretty impressive even if it looks overly complicated and cluttered. I suppose that is probably the point since the film explicitly spells out how overcrowded the world has become and that personal space is now our most valuable commodity- I personally would be miserable because looking at it I would likely forget where the hell I lived. The streets are swarming with all types of weird people doing weird things- kind of like the streets of Vegas during peak hours except without the people flicking stripper and hooker cards in your face and they blast dubstep music all over. We are constantly told how terrible life is in The Colony and how much of a shithole Farrell’s apartment is- I just couldn’t identify because from what I could tell he had a massive digital TV and it was bigger than my first three apartments combined. Essentially, that was my biggest issue through most was that I wasn’t able to connect with the characters- at least when they weren’t being chased down by Kate Beckinsale and her squad of robots.
The script is the center of the film’s issues- there is an extreme lack of anything to sink my teeth into outside of the ridiculously cool gadgets, special effects and action. The characters fail to say anything remotely interesting and at times the dialogue was cringe worthy and the set ups for everything in the last act felt extremely clunky. Combine the boring dialogue with some of the poorly conceived logic for certain characters and technology I was wavering between staring blankly in confusion or dozing off completely.
The actors have their strengths and almost none of it centers on acting ability unless you count their ability to pull off the cool action as part of it. Their personalities at least lend to why we are here watching what they are doing, but as people we are supposed to care about, not so much. Farrell and Beckinsale square off several times in some pretty fun hand to hand fights and when she’s not laying the smackdown with her fists Beckinsale puts forth a pretty wicked “shooting a machine gun” face. John Cho shows up at one point as the employee of Rekall that Farrell is referred to which has its own logic faults- why would you have to refer a specific person to do what essentially every other employee can do?- but other than that Cho at least is a familiar face to add to the fun before disappearing altogether. Then of course there’s Jessica Biel and Bryan Cranston- one is there to look pretty and tie the plot together while the other is criminally underused and just basically sneers into the camera, I’ll let you decide which is which.
I mentioned more than once how great the action is and it shouldn’t be understated- the action is actually very good and a whole lot of fun. It’s chase sequence after chase sequence and everything in-between makes you want to take a short nap. The set designs are also very striking and awesome to look at along with the great special effects where as other design aspects were not so fortunate. The robot cops or ‘Synthetics’ designs are truly uninspired and look like nothing more than a mixture of a storm trooper and the robots from I, ROBOT. Lastly, it also appears someone borrowed liberally from the JJ Abrams handbook with all the lense flares- they mellow out at one point but the excessive use of inhumanly bright light in the opening five minutes almost sent me into epileptic shock.
In the end TOTAL RECALL doesn’t suffer because it arrays from the source material but because it doesn’t strive for anything memorable outside of the awesome set pieces. The actors do a great job of selling the action and bringing great physicality to the fights, but lose all that spark when the tempo drops and have to deliver dialogue without throwing a punch. If all the film aspired to be was dumb fun action like it does at several points it would have been far easier to recommend, but once the action starts then stops the film unfortunately starts trying to take itself too seriously and the script just can’t sustain the tone and eventually outstays its welcome. TOTAL RECALL is a film that will look great when you get it on Blu-Ray from Netflix or Redbox, but doesn’t need to be something you rush out to and spend the big bucks on in theaters.
Written By: Luke (@CrummyLuke on Twitter)